There are so many hearty and delicious meals to be made in winter. At my age, I am happy that I don’t have to ski anymore, but being out on the mountain in the cold is something I always dreaded — especially in January. Maybe it’s left over from my youth, when the oven was heating our apartment, further making the kitchen the center of warmth and love in our family. There was the aroma of baked beans cooking in an old crock, with the molasses, onion and bacon permeating the house for hours. On Saturday nights we had brown bread from a can, with hot dogs and the baked beans. There’s nothing an icy mountain can do to draw me away from all that warmth!
My mother rarely baked because as a single parent who worked long days, she didn’t have the time. But my brother and I loved her banana cream pie. The cookbook that she gave me covered with old oil cloth was her only cookbook and it will automatically open to that recipe. The stained pages bring it all that much closer.
Our daughter Danielle and her boys have dinner with us at least once a week and every other week she talks about wishing she could stay home and make some of the meals that I like to serve and she enjoys eating. “I want you to teach me to make gnocchi like these,” she said last week about my ricotta and spinach gnocchi that are simmered in homemade broth — just until they rise to the top. In order to make them correctly, you have to let the dough rest in the fridge before you shape it into ovals. At serving time you can simmer the broth and complete the recipe, but like a lot of meals, there is prep time — which as a working mom I fear Danielle doesn’t have enough of. I will make her some gnocchi and put them in her fridge and she can finish them off. Better still, I will simmer them in broth and she can heat them in the oven with a little butter to be served with some chopped fresh sage and grated Parmesan. I taught myself many short cuts when I had my restaurant, out of necessity. There is just not enough time allowed between receiving an order and sending the dish out to the dining room for there to be too many steps.
Home cooks can reduce the time they spend on each meal by adopting the attitude of the restaurant chef by preparing frequently-used ingredients in advance. The most important question you can ask yourself is “What can I over-prepare for this meal that can be used to make the next several meals easier?”
Don’t make salad dressing enough for just one meal. It can be reused on subsequent nights, and dressing can also do double service as a marinade for meat, fish or poultry. Here’s one you’ll love:
Chop three cloves of fresh garlic finely and place in a medium size jar with a wide top. This will make it easier to add ingredients.
Add a tsp each of Dijon mustard, salt and few grinds of pepper, three tbsp. of real maple syrup, cover and shake the jar well.
Squeeze the juice from two lemons and pour into the jar or pour in about a third of your favorite vinegar, like wine or balsamic and pour in enough olive oil to fill the rest of the jar and shake well.
We have a salad most nights and it makes prep so much easier to have the dressing pre-made.
For a Caesar salad smash three anchovies into the dressing and a handful of grated Parmesan.
Many people have complained that when they are alone it doesn’t pay to cook for one. I disagree. A whole chicken rubbed with some herbs and butter and roasted with carrots and potatoes makes a delicious meal. And, if you think about it, the oven does all the work. Enjoy the bird one evening and the rest of the meat will make a nice topping for a Caesar salad or a quick stir fry with other ingredients from your meal, such as rice and broccoli. By the third day you may tire of the chicken, but there’s always the freezer to make little baggies of cut up chicken ready to be part of a meal — or place the carcass covered with water in a small pot with a few carrots, a small onion and chopped celery and salt and bring to a boil and simmer for a few hours. You will be surprised by what a nice broth it makes. Strain and cook a few noodles in the broth and serve with a sprinkle of Pecorino Romano.
I recently started roasting chicken in a way I can’t recall doing before. It’s a peasant style, rich in the wonderful flavors of roasted garlic and onions. The key to the dish is cooking the chicken on a rack made of carrots. The carrots lift the chicken off the bottom of the pan so that it can absorb the sizzling flavors steaming up from below.
Buy a whole chicken and cut it in half with poultry shears or a knife.
Wipe it dry and set aside.
In a heavy pan saute several cloves of garlic and a medium onion sliced thin, until brown in three tbsp. olive oil. Remove from pan and add the halves of chicken.
Raise the heat to high and brown the chicken on both sides.
Add four peeled carrots cut up into several big pieces and five medium potatoes cut into fourths. Place the veggies in the pan, under the breast, sprinkle with salt and some dried herbs from Provence (rosemary, sage, thyme) and add the garlic and onion. Roast in a 325 oven for about 45 minutes or until the leg comes easily out of its joint. A larger bird will take about this time, a smaller one a little less time. When you place the chicken on a platter surrounded with veggies make sure you save the beautiful juices that are in the pan. Loosen the particles stuck to the bottom and pour in a half cup each of chicken broth and white wine or Marsala. Simmer for a few minutes and pour over the chicken at serving time.
The bird will be delicious and you will enjoy a new flavor to your roasted chicken.